Sierra Chamber Society Program Notes

Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868)

Quartette for Flute, Violin, Viola and Cello in G Major (date unknown)


Phillip Gossett writes, " no composer in the first half of the 19th century enjoyed the measure of prestige, wealth, popular acclaim or artistic influence that belonged to Rossini. His contemporaries recognized him as the greatest Italian composer of his time." His achievements in opera caused the work of his predecessors to be forgotten, his contemporaries, Bellini and Donizetti, worked under his shadow, and even Beethoven, piqued by his international recognition, resorted to catty and snide remarks about him.


Rossini composed over 40 operas, and though today he is probably best known for the overtures to a handful of comic operas, he is historically more important as a composer of opera seria. "Italian opera," writes Gossett, "depended upon the musical forms, the style of orchestration, the rhythm, vitality and the role of music in defining and shaping the drama first developed fully in the operas of Rossini." At the height of his career, after completing William Tell (in 1829), a work which seemed to break new ground for opera, Rossini, at age 37, gave up writing opera and never wrote another. He left Paris and returned to Italy where he lived in seclusion, accompanied by unspecified illnesses, mental and physical, for the next 20 years of his life. He moved back to Paris in 1855 and seemed to come back to life. His health improved, his famous sense of humor reappeared and his became one of the most interesting and elegant salons in Paris. He started composing again and produced over 150 piano pieces, songs, small ensembles, and the Petite Messe Solenelle. These works were only performed at his salon, for private audiences, which included most of the great artistic and public figures in Paris at the time. Rossini refused to have them published. He referred to the as "Sins of My Old Age". Characterized by wit, parody, grace and sentiment, these pieces were to influence the younger generation of French composers, including Saint-Saens, Chabrier. In some ways these works seem to foreshadow the strange piano works of Eric Satie.

The Quartette for Flute, Violin, Viola and Cello in G Major is one of a set of four written during Rossini’s student years. They are said to have been written after his six Sonata a Quattro which date from circa 1804. This would make him all of twelve years old! As a student, Rossini was extremely interested in the works of Mozart and Haydn. In later years he would refer to Mozart as "the admiration of my youth, the desperation of my mature years, the consolation of my old age." The G Major Quartet is a species of quartet known as "Quator Brilliant" or "Quartet Concertante," used by Mozart and Haydn in their works which combine a wind instrument with a string trio. In this type of quartet, the flute functions more as a soloist, with the strings in the capacity of accompanists. Though the work is not without interplay among the four voices, the flute is definitely the featured player. This arrangement seems a natural medium for a future composer of opera.

1991-92 Season,Program IV, Sunday April 5, 1992

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